It all started last year, when I was looking for Christmas presents for my nephews, nieces and godchildren. For me, giving a present to someone is always special-it doesn’t matter whether the gift is a little expensive or a little on the frugal size, I always try to choose the gifts carefully so whoever is on the receiving end gets emotional ( in a good way ) or just smiles when he or she opens my gift.
To choose the gift for a child, especially when they start getting opinions on what they would like to get-thank you horrible TV ads !!!- makes the job twice as hard, and as Christmas is a magical time and creativity might not necessarily flow towards the year’s end, I was starting to get a little frustrated, especially when it came down to choosing a gift for my daughter and middle niece. One evening I was browsing an online gifts site and all of a sudden, I saw a doll-a smiley, beautiful, hand made doll that made my grown-up heart flutter.
I placed the order and then went to explore the site called The Ruby Range, which was started two years ago by a magical woman called Andria Thomas. Before I tell you about Andria and her dolls, let me tell you how my story with Christmas presents ended.
I ordered two dolls for my niece and for my daughter, and each was made by Andria and each has its own character. There are many dolls, each bearing a cute, girly name, to give you ideas and choice regarding doll’s face, hairstyle, clothes, shoes which Andria tries to match as closely as possible. We agreed on all details and true to her word, dolls arrived, snugly in the box just over a week later-one called after my daughter and another after my niece, the names inscribed on cute wooden hearts tied around the neck with a tiny ribbon. I loved the one made for my little girl, it looked a little like her and I knew that Christmas would be very special indeed but the one intended for my niece had a slightly sad smile and my mother added fuel to the flame, saying that my nice was so bubbly and energetic and the doll looks a little sad. Well, I felt bad because I agreed all the details with Andria and it wasn’t her fault at all-she made a doll how I wanted her to. Andria followed up with an e-mail, asking whether I liked the doll and feeling very guilty, I told her about my slight hesitation. Andria told me not to worry, to return the doll, as she was going to a fair, where she often sells her dolls and that she will make me a new one. She was so sweet and bubbly and kind, yet I felt really bad, after all she seems to be putting her heart and soul in her dolls. As far as I am concerned, only wonderful people can make dolls for children…..I returned the doll and when Andria posted me a new one, she told me that the doll that I have returned has found its rightful owner-a little girl came to the fair with her grandmother, saw the doll and fell in love with it. You see, there is a certain magic when it comes to some hand-made dolls-you can’t describe it, you just know its in your heart or when you hold that doll.
Andria was born in Hong Kong to a German by birth mother and a British father, who served in the army, so the family had to move several times and Andria says that she still doesn’t get particularly attached to places and doesn’t feel like she has a home country, even though she really likes living where she does ( in Wiltshire for the past twenty years ).
Andria was married and had a son but unfortunately that relationship didn’t work out in the long run, yet it’s when serendipity entered the arena…. When Andrea was young and living in Germany, she had a boyfriend who felt like the one but when Andria moved away from Germany they lost touch-remember, those were the times when things were simple, slower, no mobiles or e-mails to keep you in touch. About nine years ago they got reunited via Friends Reunited online site and have been married for the past five years. If that is not part of Andria’s magic, I don’t know what is….
Andria never intended to make dolls as a line of work. She used to work on the corporate side of things at Dyson ( she says that James Dyson is lovely and very hands on with what he does ) and now works at a charity school for deaf children Monday to Friday, working on the business side of things, concentrating on the things that generate business for the school. As Andria herself says: ‘ I am very lucky to work there, but the children are actually just normal children who happen to be deaf, the environment is very normal and we teach orally, although the children do sign amongst themselves, we do have some children with additional needs, but mostly they are normal teenagers! We also have a primary school site with the very little ones who just get on as if its all very normal ! ‘.
When I asked Andria how she started making dolls, she says that she was always creative and good with her hands ( she loves knitting, crocheting, she even used to do window display designs and says that her mother even does woodcarvings ) . A few years ago she was in the bookshop with her mother and saw a book by a well-known Norwegian author Tonne Finnanger on Tilda dolls patterns, so Andria decided to make one too. She says she always liked rag dolls, like Cabbage patch dolls that were de rigeur in the 80s, but she never liked their faces, so Andria decided to give it a go.
Andria says that she recently did some crocheting, after a few months break and realised that it felt like she was loosing the skill, so she is determined not to let it go and find the time to do it. She is also a visual person and loves the creativity flowing and the ideas buzzing in her head.
The name ‘ The Ruby Range ‘ came to Andria’s husband, as ‘Ruby’ is her middle name and the word ‘range’ encompasses a lot of things in its meaning, so it felt like a great fit. When Andria braved the first crafts fair, she did feel that she was creating something unique and her confidence had a huge boost when people either passed her stand, smiling smiling at the dolls on display or actually buying them with a happy glint in their eye.
In October 2011 Andria’s nephew joined the army ( the army tradition is very much alive in Andria’s family ), so she decided to make him a ‘ solder doll ‘. In the process she also e-mailed the picture of the doll that she was making to her sister in Germany-and a lot of armed forces are stationed or travel via that country. Andria was unprepared for the overwhelming amount of orders that followed for those solder dolls, when her sister started spreading the word. She makes those beautiful dolls for children, whose fathers are service-men or for army solders, to remind them of their home life and the love that awaits them at home and it feels like an incredibly meaningful and human human gift that gives joy, love and hope.
In the beginning each doll took longer to be made but now Andria can make one in six or seven hours. Her husband helps to stuff the dolls and Andria dresses and hand paints the face of each one. When I ask her about choosing the outfits, Andria says that choosing the fabric or the shoes or the detailing is a very visual thing for her, sometimes combinations work perfectly and sometimes they just don’t. She never compromises on the quality of materials that she uses to make her dolls, as she wants each one to be truly memorable and special and to bring joy to the recipient for many years to come.
She only once went back and said that she couldn’t fulfill the order and that was purely because someone ordered the ‘ biker doll ‘ and Andria, being the perfectionist, just couldn’t get the helmet right. Other than that she doesn’t get daunted and loves a challenge that might come in creating a specific doll. She can also make rabbits or other animals if someone wants it.
The first doll Andria made was called Daisy and she sold her at her first craft fair she attended-she felt a tiny bit of sadness to part with her, but then that’s what she made the doll for, to make someone happy and that she strives to do every time she makes a doll. To date Andria must have made somewhere between 200 and 300 dolls-she takes a picture of each one she makes but isn’t inclined to keep any of them for sentimental reasons.
As Andria now is also doting grandmother to a 15 months old girl, I ask her if she has made her granddaughter a doll or two yet ? Andria replies that her granddaughter isn’t interested in them just yet, but she plans to make many for her when the time comes.
When I talk to Andria on the phone it makes me smile as you can almost hear the joy and laughter in her voice, she makes you feel comfortable, almost enveloping you in an invisible hug and I truly think that if a person like that makes a doll for your child, it’s going to be one special doll and your little one will treasure that doll forever, passing it possibly to her own little girl one day. And that to me, is truly magical !